Critic's Picks: All Julia Roberts' Film Performances, Ranked

12:34 PM 5/12/2016

by THR Staff

THR film critics Stephen Dalton, John DeFore, Frank Scheck, Sheri Linden and Jon Frosch rank all of the 'Money Monster' actress' work from worst (no, it's not 'Mother's Day') to triumphant, Oscar-winning best.

Universal Pictures/Photofest
  1. 41
    41

    Blood Red

    1989

    MGM / Photofest

    Roberts was still a virtual unknown when she appeared alongside older brother Eric, Michael Madsen and Dennis Hopper in director Peter Masterson’s clunky revenge western about Sicilian émigrés in late 19th century California. She has little more than a colorless cameo, allowing her to emerge relatively unscathed from all the scenery-chewing, horse-punching histrionics. — S.D.

  2. 40
    41

    Grand Champion

    2002

    Roberts make an unlikely cameo in this cornball slice of folksy Americana about a single mom, two cute kids and a prize-winning cow. Her brief appearance as the check-in official at a Texas livestock contest may have some connection to cinematographer Danny Moder, who also happens to be her husband. — S.D.

  3. 39
    41

    Satisfaction

    1988

    20th Century-Fox/Photofest

    It’s mostly big hair and big earrings for Roberts’ first credited big-screen performance, an Aaron Spelling-produced vehicle for Justine Bateman. In the unconvincing story of four high school girls’ rock-ish band, sixth-billed Roberts is the flirt on bass. Her knack for physical comedy shines through, and, for a brief instant, she lets loose with that soon-to-be-famous laugh. — S.L.

  4. 38
    41

    Mother's Day

    2016

    Courtesy of Open Road Films

    Roberts is upstaged by her spectacularly cheap-looking wig in Garry Marshall's ghastly ensemble comedy, which flits among a handful of vapid characters in the lead-up to the titular holiday. Consider the actress' debt to her Pretty Woman director paid in full. — J.F.

  5. 37
    41

    Mirror Mirror

    2012

    Relativity Media/Photofest

    If a certain celebrity self-regard has crept into Roberts’ work over the years, she uses it to winning effect in Tarsem Singh’s retelling of Snow White, a fractured fairy tale that lands somewhere between Disney and Grimm. With a touch of self-mockery and sharp comic timing, she brings the jealous Queen to wicked life. — S.L.

  6. 36
    41

    I Love Trouble

    1994

    Touchstone/Photofest

    This rival-journalists mystery/romance boasted a setup straight from Hollywood's golden era. But the contrivances of Nancy Meyers' screenplay made a pretty flimsy scaffold for antagonistic flirtation between Roberts and Nick Nolte, and the ostensible high stakes of the mystery they're investigating got in the way of light romance. — J.D.

  7. 35
    41

    Eat Pray Love

    2010

    Columbia Pictures/Photofest

    It was critically panned, but this adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir of self-actualization was a box-office hit. Eating her way through Italy, praying her way through India, and finding love with the hunky Javier Bardem in Indonesia, Roberts made being angst-ridden seem seriously sexy. — F.S.

  8. 34
    41

    Conspiracy Theory

    1997

    Warner Bros./Photofest

    At the peak of their fame, Mel Gibson and Roberts co-starred in this thriller directed by Richard Donner about a conspiracy-obsessed cabbie and the Justice Department lawyer who comes to believe him. Audiences responded, making it a box-office hit, and the chemistry between the two stars was palpable. But other than praising Gibson's entertaining gonzo turn, critics weren't so kind. — F.S.

  9. 33
    41

    Valentine's Day

    2010

    New Line Cinema/Photofest

    Roberts’ participation in this ill-conceived rom-com Whitman’s sampler would seem to rest on the involvement of director Garry Marshall, whose Pretty Woman made her a marquee name. As an enigmatic Army captain flying home to Los Angeles, she not only avoids the multi-stranded story’s ground-level inanity, but she lends the proceedings a jolt of movie-star magnetism. — S.L.

  10. 32
    41

    Pret-a-Porter

    1994

    Courtesy of Miramax

    Robert Altman’s frothy but toothless fashion-business satire features Roberts as a reporter stranded in a haute couture Parisian murder mystery. It’s genial performance, but just a slender thread in a glittering all-star tapestry that includes Tim Robbins, Sophia Loren, Kim Basinger, Forest Whitaker and Roberts’ then-spouse Lyle Lovett. — S.D.

  11. 31
    41

    Something to Talk About

    1995

    Warner Bros./Photofest

    Roberts gets to show her emotional range in Lasse Hallstrom’s soft-hearted paean to family bonds and heartland values, playing a wronged woman in a small southern town who discovers her husband (Dennis Quaid) has been unfaithful. The tone is syrupy but Roberts never milks her martyr role for easy sympathy. — S.D.

  12. 30
    41

    The Mexican

    2001

    DreamWorks/Photofest

    A box-office success despite the fact that she and costar Brad Pitt rarely shared the screen, this story of kidnapping and a priceless antique handgun was most notable as one of James Gandolfini's most appealing big-screen vehicles, showing the actor's then-new fans there was much more to him than Tony Soprano. — J.D.

  13. 29
    41

    Hook

    1991

    TriStar Pictures/Photofest

    The casting of Roberts as Tinkerbell said much of what one needed to know about Steven Spielberg's throw-it-all-in-there attempt to reinvigorate Peter Pan mythology. Stuck between Dustin Hoffman's eponymous moustache-twirler and an embarrassingly gussied-up Robin Williams, though, the actress managed to make her pint-sized fairy grounded in comparison. — J.D.

  14. 28
    41

    Mary Reilly

    1996

    Columbia TriStar/Photofest

    Adopting a wavering Irish accent, Roberts tried to stretch in this Stephen Frears-directed drama retelling the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde through the perspective of his housemaid. The movie was a critical and commercial flop, with many reviewers commenting that Roberts was miscast. It also garnered her a Razzie Award nomination for Worst Actress. — F.S.

  15. 27
    41

    Fireflies in the Garden

    2008

    Senator Entertainment/Photofest

    Writer-director Dennis Lee’s thumpingly dysfunctional family saga lacks subtlety, but Roberts is one of its plus points. As the long-suffering wife of Willem Dafoe’s tyrannical college professor and martyred mother to Ryan Reynolds’ aspiring novelist, her somber and intense performance ages across a period of more than 20 years. — S.D.

  16. 26
    41

    Dying Young

    1991

    20th Century Fox/Photofest

    It was predicted to be a summertime smash hit, but the combination of its downer title and awful reviews made this Joel Schumacher-directed tearjerker a box-office disappointment. Roberts was as appealing as ever playing the caretaker of a leukemia-afflicted man (Campbell Scott) with whom she falls in love, but even her charisma wasn't able to elevate the maudlin material. — F.S.

  17. 25
    41

    Mona Lisa Smile

    2003

    Columbia Pictures/Photofest

    Roberts’ forward-thinking art history professor is a breath of boho-fresh air, scandalizing students and administration alike at Eisenhower-era Wellesley College. Despite the overly diagrammatic setup of the Mike Newell-directed feature, Roberts finds a welcome vulnerability in her character as she faces down the bluebloods. — S.L.

  18. 24
    41

    Everyone Says I Love You

    1996

    Miramax/Photofest

    Shortly after letting herself get lost in the crowd of Robert Altman’s Pret-A-Porter, Roberts signed on to be part of a Woody Allen ensemble comedy — a fantastically smart move, one thinks, until learning said comedy is a musical in which nearly nobody can sing. The effort was endearing, though, and with My Best Friend's Wedding right around the corner, it certainly did nothing to sap her star power. — J.D.

  19. 23
    41

    Flatliners

    1990

    Columbia/Photofest

    Roberts earned a high ranking in the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon league by co co-starring opposite Kiefer Sutherland and Bacon himself in director Joel Schumacher’s hokey but handsomely shot supernatural thriller. All coltish energy and lustrous copper tresses, the 23-year-old Roberts plays a trainee doctor who joins an illicit experiment to experience what it feels like to die. — S.D.

  20. 22
    41

    Larry Crowne

    2011

    Universal Pictures/Photofest

    Reuniting with Tom Hanks, her co-star in Charlie Wilson's War, Roberts played a married, community college teacher who falls in love with her recently downsized, middle-aged student in this romantic comedy misfire which Hanks also directed and co-scripted with Nia Vardalos. — F.S.

  21. 21
    41

    Stepmom

    1998

    Columbia TriStar Pictures/Photofest

    Years before she played Snow White's evil stepmother in Mirror, Mirror, Roberts was far more sympathetic as a fashion photographer attempting to ingratiate herself with her older lover's (Ed Harris) young children while being bitterly resented by their dying mother (Susan Sarandon). She didn't garner the critical acclaim of her co-stars in Chris Columbus’ weepie, but she helped propel it to a $159 million worldwide gross. — F.S.

  22. 20
    41

    Duplicity

    2009

    Universal Pictures/Photofest

    Roberts wields her star power with a self-knowing strut — and flashes of well-played uncertainty — as a former CIA operative angling to make a big score in the private sector. Tony Gilroy’s less-than-meets-the-eye puzzle is more about screen charisma than corporate espionage; the spy-vs.-spy glamor of Roberts and Clive Owen (reteaming after Closer) keeps it purring. — S.L.

  23. 19
    41

    Michael Collins

    1996

    Courtesy of Photofest

    Roberts plays Kitty Kiernan, the real-life fiancée of Irish independence campaigner and political martyr Michael Collins (Liam Neeson), in director Neil Jordan’s sweeping historical biopic. Roberts is underused, but acquits herself well, adding a splash of Hollywood glamour to the classy international ensemble cast. — S.D.

  24. 18
    41

    Full Frontal

    2002

    Miramax/Photofest

    Blurring the borders between fact and fiction, Roberts plays both a cool-headed reporter and a semi-documentary version of herself in director Steven Soderbergh’s experimental low-budget ensemble drama. Modelling a selection of wigs, Roberts goes meta alongside David Duchovny, Catherine Keener, Blair Underwood, Brad Pitt and more. — S.D.

  25. 17
    41

    America's Sweethearts

    2001

    Columbia Pictures/Photofest

    Smartly turning down the lead role as a spoilt Hollywood diva in this Billy Crystal-penned satire on shallow movie-world celebrity, Roberts instead took the more sympathetic part of her long-suffering sister. Channelling decades of repressed rage, Roberts gives a better performance than director Joe Roth’s sentimental rom-com deserves. — S.D.

  26. 16
    41

    Closer

    2004

    Columbia Pictures/Photofest

    One of the most ambitious straight dramas she has made, Mike Nichols’ adaptation of Patrick Marber’s hit play finds Roberts in a quartet of characters who seduce each other, sexually and otherwise, in various combinations. It's some of the best acting of her career, even if the characters onscreen leave you cold. — J.D.

  27. 15
    41

    The Pelican Brief

    1993

    Warner Bros./Photofest

    Coming in the brief period when it seemed no star would escape making a potboiler or two penned by John Grisham, this upmarket thriller overflowed with talent and pedigree. But after mastering political paranoia in All the President's Men and The Parallax View, director Alan J. Pakula had a too-busy stable of dubious DC figures to make sense of here, and Roberts's chemistry with co-star Denzel Washington could only take things so far. — J.D.

  28. 14
    41

    August: Osage County

    2013

    The Weinstein Company/Photofest

    Roberts snared Oscar, Golden Globe, BAFTA and SAG award nominations for her memorable supporting turn as the embittered eldest daughter of Meryl Streep’s matriarch in this screen adaptation of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer-Prize winning family drama. — F.S.

  29. 13
    41

    Steel Magnolias

    1989

    TriStar Pictures/Photofest

    Following up her Mystic Pizza breakthrough, Roberts joined a distinguished crew of co-stars in this Southern-sisterhood dramedy. Riding a wave of popularity for female-bonding pictures like Beaches, it began what Anthony Lane once called "a stream of movies ... in which Roberts either succumbed to the Grim Reaper or made serious efforts to date him." — J.D.

  30. 12
    41

    Secret in Their Eyes

    2015

    STX Entertainment/Photofest

    An aggressively de-glammed Roberts delivered her strongest big-screen performance in years in Billy Ray’s remake of the Argentine drama El Secreto de Sus Ojos. As a Los Angeles detective whose daughter is murdered, Roberts is the embodiment of accusatory grief. Bruised and bruising, her portrait is the dark center of this cold-case policier. — S.L.

  31. 11
    41

    Runaway Bride

    1999

    Paramount Pictures/Photofest

    For her reunion with Richard Gere and director Garry Marshall nine years after Pretty Woman, Roberts got what sounded like a classic screwball romance on paper — cynical journalist goes after a matrimonial escape artist only to lose his heart to her. This being not Capra or Hawks but Marshall, moviegoers got something considerably less witty and more pandering. — J.D.

  32. 10
    41

    Sleeping with the Enemy

    1991

    Twentieth Century Fox/Photofest

    Its conflation of obsessive-compulsive disorder with homicidal rage might give mental-health professionals fits, but this domestic violence thriller was catnip at the multiplex, knocking Home Alone out of its No. 1 box-office perch. Coming the year after Pretty Woman surely did not hurt. — J.D.

  33. 9
    41

    Ocean's Eleven & Ocean's Twelve

    2001, 2004

    Warner Bros./Photofest

    The success of Steven Soderbergh's larky Rat Pack remake lifted all boats, but Roberts was especially welcome as a counterpoint to all the tuxedoed testosterone. She'd get company in the sequel, with Catherine Zeta-Jones taking a larger role while Roberts went all meta: her character, Tess Ocean, pretends to be Julia Roberts. Both women would jump ship before the trilogy's last chapter. — J.D.

  34. 8
    41

    Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

    2002

    Courtesy of Miramax

    Roberts gives great femme fatale in George Clooney’s darkly comic directorial debut, which is based on the dubious memoirs of game show host and self-styled secret CIA assassin Chuck Barris (Sam Rockwell). Quoting Shakespeare, and later dying a Shakespearean death, Roberts plays the ice-cool double agent who seduces and betrays Barris. — S.D.

  35. 7
    41

    Mystic Pizza

    1988

    Samuel Goldwyn Company/Photofest

    Roberts had her first significant, pre-Pretty Woman role in this charming ensemble comedy about the romantic escapades of three young women working in a Mystic, Connecticut pizzeria. The film also marked the screen debut of Matt Damon, with whom she would later appear in Ocean's Eleven, Ocean's Twelve and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. The actress's luxuriant, curly hair should have received its own billing. — F.S.

  36. 6
    41

    Pretty Woman

    1990

    Photofest

    Probably the biggest crowd-pleaser of her career, Pretty Woman may also be the most divisive. Empowering or misogynistic? Shameless materialism or cute fairy tale? One thing most could agree on was the escapist pleasure in seeing Roberts and Richard Gere get dolled up and fall in love with each other. — J.D.

  37. 5
    41

    Notting Hill

    1999

    Universal Pictures/Photofest

    In this hit romantic comedy, Roberts fueled the fantasies of millions of average Joes with her winning performance as a glamorous movie star who tells Hugh Grant's mild-mannered bookshop owner, "And don't forget…I'm also just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her." Yeah, right, like that's ever gonna happen. — F.S.

  38. 4
    41

    My Best Friend's Wedding

    1997

    Sony Pictures Entertainment/Photofest

    Confirming her screwball comedy chops, Roberts plays a sports journalist who suffers a sudden attack of romantic envy shortly before the Chicago nuptials of her long-time platonic best friend. Not only does Roberts make her spiteful heroine sympathetic, she also outshines a stellar supporting cast that includes Cameron Diaz and Rupert Everett. — S.D.

  39. 3
    41

    Charlie Wilson's War

    2007

    Universal/Photofest

    Roberts tests out her Texas twang in the vampish role of Joanne Herring, the real-life socialite and conservative activist who helped persuade maverick Texas congressman Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) to arm Afghanistan’s resistance fighters against occupying Soviet forces. With Mike Nichols directing and Aaron Sorkin providing the snappy script, both Roberts and Hanks give deliciously ripe performances. — S.D.

  40. 2
    41

    The Normal Heart

    2014

    HBO/Photofest

    Roberts won an Emmy Award nomination for this HBO film adaptation of Larry Kramer's urgent drama about the beginnings of the AIDS epidemic. Playing the wheelchair-bound doctor who is among the first to recognize the extent of the crisis, the actress delivered one of her fiercest, most impassioned performances. — F.S.

  41. 1
    41

    Erin Brockovich

    2000

    Photofest

    Roberts earned the best actress Oscar for her brassy, ballsy, big-haired, fast-talking performance as the real-life single mother and legal clerk who exposed the pollution secrets of a giant energy conglomerate. A critical and commercial hit, Erin Brockovich marked the start of a long and fruitful creative partnership between Roberts and director Steven Soderbergh. — S.D.

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